November 3, 2015

5 key findings about religiosity in the U.S. – and how it’s changing

How the U.S. Public Became Less Religious

On one level, the story of how Americans’ religious affiliations are changing is well known and straightforward: More and more U.S. adults say they do not identify with any religion, while a shrinking majority describe themselves as Christians,  according to  the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study we published in May.

But whether the country is actually becoming less religious is a more complicated question. Are its religious beliefs and practices changing beyond the declining shares of people who choose to identify with a religion?

Our second report from the 2014 Religious Landscape Study examines Americans’ religious beliefs and finds that the question of whether adults in the U.S. are becoming more or less religious depends, in part, on how religious observance is measured.

Here are five key takeaways from the report:

1Overall, Americans have become slightly less religious – based on some key traditional gauges of religiosity – since the last Religious Landscape Study was conducted in 2007. For instance, 53% of U.S. adults now say religion is very important in their lives, down from 56% in 2007. Over the same seven-year period, the share of Americans who say they are absolutely certain that God exists has dropped from 71% to 63%. And 36% of adults report attending religious services at least weekly, down 3 percentage points since 2007. 

2This overall drop in religiosity has been driven by the rapid growth of the religiously unaffiliated population (from 16% of all U.S. adults in 2007 to 23% in 2014) – along with the fact that these religious “nones” are becoming even more secular over time. For example, while 70% of “nones” expressed a belief in God in 2007, that figure has fallen to 61% today. At the same time, among the shrinking share of Americans who do identify with a religion, levels of religious observance have been relatively stable. Indeed, by some measures, such as frequency of sharing their faith with others and reading scripture, religious engagement has even ticked up modestly among the affiliated.

3As is the case with religious affiliation, generational replacement also is helping to drive lower levels of religious commitment. In other words, as older, more religiously observant generations die out, they are being replaced by far less religious young adults. One example: Two-thirds of members of the Silent generation (67%) say religion is very important in their lives, but only 38% of the youngest members of the Millennial generation – those born between 1990 and 1996 – say the same. Just 28% of these youngest Millennials report attending religious services at least weekly, compared with about half (51%) of their Silent generation counterparts.

4While traditional measures of religiosity are down, some measures of spirituality are up. Roughly six-in-ten Americans (59%) say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week, up from 52% in 2007. And nearly half (46%) report often feeling a deep sense of wonder about the universe, also a 7-point jump over seven years. Even religious “nones” have become more likely to have these experiences in recent years.

5Overwhelming majorities of Americans see churches and other religious organizations as having a positive impact on society, but many also express criticisms of these same religious institutions. Nearly nine-in-ten U.S. adults say religious institutions bring people together and strengthen community bonds (89%).  In addition, 87% say these organizations play an important role in helping the poor and needy. Three-quarters say they protect and strengthen morality in society (75%). However, roughly half of Americans say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power (52%), focus too much on rules (51%) and are too involved with politics (48%).

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Affiliation, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Religiously Unaffiliated

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is an editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

17 Comments

  1. alex7 months ago

    When I watch the video that was posted on this web page I immediately asked myself, what could be causing people in the United States to become less religious? And how will this affect our society in the future? Also i wonder throughout history are there highs and lows of religiosity? Are we just going through a phase of people being less religious?

  2. Bill Bruehl8 months ago

    Michael Lipka and his team seem not to have put a specific focus on the idea of the supernatural and whether or not belief in the supernatural (superstition?) has declined. I suspect it has among educated Americans and has not among those not so well educated, which might be a spur to “home schooling.” Since there has never been any testable and repeatable evidence for the supernatural it remains merely an untested assertion accepted primarily -it would seem- amongst uneducated and our elders (I’m 84). As we of that generation die out, the rest of us can look forward to a time when literal belief in such things as bodily resurrection and the assumption of bodies into “heaven” might disappear into the category of metaphor and poetry. All that’s ok, but I’m worried about the disappearance of communality. Will the new Humanists find ways to become communities? I hope so. The dominance of individualism could be the evil cousin of Secular Humanism.

  3. Gene Fisher8 months ago

    It is interesting that spirituality has gone up while religiosity has gone down in the post crash period. There has been much economic stress from 2007 to 2014 and much religiously inspired (directed?) political activity. Despite stress and anger people are more likely to find spiritual peace and comfort. God doesn’t forget his people, whether they turn to him or not.

  4. Prenestino8 months ago

    The article has nothing to do with the word “religiosity” The word refers to the outward show of being religious, and has little to do with how religious or spiritual a person actually is. The term “traditional measures of religiosity” is absurd. Since when were there ever any formal “measures” of affected religion ever established.

  5. Eduardo Perez8 months ago

    It looks that the less you go to church the more spiritual Americans become.

  6. Douglas Heidt8 months ago

    Will there be a follow up study similar to the 2007 – 2008 findings about specific beliefs about God, human beings, and the world?

    Most of the churches retain their traditional language in communicating their beliefs and purposes. Has there (or will there be) a consideration of a correlation between the decline of churches and their traditional orthodox language and images, and the growth of scientific technological language and its way of looking at the world? It seems to me that the latter would be the language of the nones.

  7. Anonymous8 months ago

    Atheism and agnosticism is more than twice as prevalent in Europe as it is in the US, “51% of European Union citizens responded that “they believe there is a God”, whereas 26% answered that “they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force” and 20% that “they do not believe there is a spirit, God, nor life force”.” Europe us the cradle of most of our religions, so perhaps this phenomenon is just our population coming to the same conclusions as theirs have.

  8. Melinda8 months ago

    What is the standard error for these poll numbers, and is it taken into account when stating that numbers have changed over the years?

    1. Michael Lipka8 months ago

      Melinda:

      Thanks for your question. We always take margins of error into account when looking at trends over time to make sure changes are statistically significant.

      For the full sample in this survey (sample size of 35,071), the margin of error is plus or minus 0.6 percentage points. The full methodology can be seen here: pewforum.org/2015/11/03/appendix….

      Thanks again,
      Michael Lipka

  9. Packard Day8 months ago

    “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”
    ― G.K. Chesterton……………………………………….Free healthcare, redistribution of wealth, to say nothing for hope & change, anyone? Anyone?

    1. tito8 months ago

      ridiculous! What does political policy have to do with being religious? Intolerance, hypocrisy and judgement —those are the things that turn people off to religion…

  10. Anonymous8 months ago

    We are the reasonable ones. We are winning. Atheism is unstoppable.

    1. Anonymous8 months ago

      Oh please…

    2. RB8 months ago

      It is stoppable, as it has been stopped in the past – by government sponsored/subsidized religion and stigmatization or oppression of “non believers” – both of which are alive and well in America.
      I look forward to the day when the majority of people no longer believe in fairy tales and imaginary beings – but as long as our government continues to support religion and show preference for monotheism over polytheism and nontheism, we have a long way to go.
      (and the Pew research as well as the fact that so many people actually support the Republican Party platform are sufficient evidence, imo, that we still have a long way to go before we, as a majority, overcome our infantile/juvenile need for an imaginary friend(s) in the sky).
      Carbo Diem.

      1. ER8 months ago

        Good points RB! But as a parent of 2 teenagers I do believe atheism is rolling full steam. Social networking and the Internet seem to be having a big effect on tomorrow’s leaders. These kids are out there fact checking. The simple fact that Christianity copied off of previous known bogus religions and simply changed names around is a tough sell to these Internet savvy kids.

        1. alexie8 months ago

          Obviously the facts were not checked with you. Plus, if it is on the internet it must be true!!!
          Plus it it was organised atheism in soviet Russia, China, Vietnam and other countries that have slaughtered hundreds of millions.
          Yes, let us become atheists and kill all the people pf faith. Nth Korea is another country of atheism. Going really well there I see.

    3. Prenestino8 months ago

      What are you “winning”?